Bloodsport (1988) Review

Director: Newt Arnold

Genre(s): Action, Sport

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1988 action film Bloodsport was one of the star-making movies for Jean-Claude Van Damme. It still stands as one of the Muscles from Brussels’ more entertaining outings. Based on the, er, “unverified” (i.e. fake) story of American martial artist Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) entering an underground Hong Kong fighting tournament called “the Kumite,” this work of kitsch was supposedly a major inspiration on the Mortal Kombat video game series.

Okay, let’s not dance around the elephant in the room. This movie is seriously cheesy. The acting is questionable, the dialogue is unintentionally humorous, Jean-Claude Van Damme does his trademark splits approximately three thousand times, and the source material is a made-up story passed off as fact. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy this silly actioner. The good guys are likeable and the villain, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), is a nasty piece of work. People bond in a macho manner over video games, and the theme song, “Fight to Survive” by Stan Bush, is killer.

The action choreography isn’t really up to par with that from similar movies being made by the likes of Jackie Chan at about the same time as this one. Nonetheless, the fights are still some of the highlights, and the staging of them probably isn’t as bad as I’m leading on. That being said, there is some potentially offensive content involving a Black fighter who beats up his opponents while running around on all fours. Normally, I’d say that that hasn’t aged well, but I’m pretty sure that that was never acceptable.

Bloodsport has rightfully become a cult classic since its release, due to its colorfully corny nature and cheesily earnest storytelling. It works because it has just enough of an emotional hook to get the audience invested. It’s certainly one of the better martial arts tournament flicks out there, so watch it and keep an eye out for a young Forest Whitaker as FBI agent Rawlins and a not-young Roy Chiao (better known as gangster Lao Che from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [1984]) as Tanaka, Van Damme’s character’s mentor.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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